A 19-year-old animator/illustrator is helping change how we view art and race with the #DrawingWhileBlack twitter hashtag.
The art world is painfully white. In New York City, wealthy white male executives sit on museum boards and help shape our cultural discussions of what art is, who gets to make it, and who gets to experience it. The cultural institution divide is stark, with most museums residing and catering to predominately white patrons. Helping to push back and raise awareness of Black artists and their work is 19-year-old Annabelle Hayford. A first generation Ghanaian American artist, Hayford created the hashtag event #DrawingWhileBlack, which took place this past weekend to help celebrate and amplify Black artists.
Hayford became interested in animation and illustration at a young age as an avid viewer of Cartoon Network and Nicktoons. Despite their interest however, Hayford recalls questioning if the art world was for them. Over email, Hayford described the dominant presence of white male artists had within their textbooks and art classes. This lack of representation left an impact on Hayford, as it does for many creators who are left to wonder if creative spaces will embrace their voices and experiences. That’s part of what prompted the creation of #DrawingWhileBlack.
For Hayford these hashtag events are an important step in fostering safer environments for marginalized creators. They recalled how lonely the process of creating art can be, especially when you trying to forge a community in a field which doesn’t represent you, your history, or your experiences. Part of what the hashtag hopes to accomplish is to center awareness on and celebrate Black creators working in the field of animation, art, and illustration. For Hayford, this is only a first step,: they hope the hashtag and movement becomes a sustainable endeavor to help Black artists find work and community. “While it’s important to hire marginalized creators, it’s also important to make safe spaces for them to work and give us a chance to speak for ourselves, and the conditions of the industry without fearing too much backlash!”
Backlash. It’s a sad yet predictable phenomena whenever marginalized communities lay claim to a space of their own. As Hayford’s hashtag grew in popularity, a small but vocal group of Twitter users questioned the motives behind the hashtag. They wondered why the creator wanted to separate artists based on race and made loud prostrations about race not impacting whether or not someone is a good artist. It should go without saying that one’s experiences undoubtedly shape the art they create. It is troubling that whenever marginalized voices attempt to create a safe space for themselves, not centered on or as a response to whiteness, that so many feel the need to interject their opinions, views and beliefs. It only further proves the necessity of these hashtag events.
A 2014 report by BFAMFAPhD, a collective of artists, designers, technologists, organizers, and educators who work in the intersection of art, technology, and political economy, helps illuminate how weighted the work force is towards white male artists. Making a career out of art is difficult for many but if you are lucky enough to do so chances are you are white.
I chatted with two artists who had participated in the hashtag where it became abundantly clear that #DrawingWhileBlack was about so much more than visibility. It was about Black creators celebrating one another in a safe, positive, and welcoming space.
Danalle is a freelance artist who decided to join the hashtag to celebrate what art has meant to her throughout her life. What she didn’t expect is for thousands of people to share and like her work. For Danalle, the hashtag helped her realize people could support her art and her culture–that the two could go joyously and unapologetically hand-in-hand.
— ⎔kay. @artblocked bro just end me (@AlienPanties) September 15, 2017
Art in the Black community is usually a hobby to have on the side and something not taken seriously past a certain age but being in the tag and seeing so many people (art students and the like) going beyond that boundary, ready to make this into something more, pushes me to do the same. – Danalle aka barawowl.
Chris is an illustrator, cartoonist, and writer from Richmond, Virginia. He joined the hashtag to celebrate and show solidarity with fellow Black artists. He noted the difficulty of navigating visibility on your own terms while being Black, which is too often met with resistance by those with privilege.
— chris kindred (@itskindred) September 16, 2017
Speaking of the importance of #DrawingWhileBlack Chris added, “Black folks are disproportionately excluded from the arts. Between the broader industry and academia, we struggle to see folks like ourselves. It’s rough, and it has severe emotional consequences. Hashtags like this remind me that there are people like me out here working. We may be few and far between, but we’re here and we’re strong.”
Hayford hopes to continue building a welcoming community of Black artists and has archived the posts from #DrawingWhileBlack on Twitter @DrawingWhileblk. When I asked Hayford what they wanted others to takeaway from this hashtag they said, “It’s okay to be proud of who you are! Whether you are Black and/or an artist, you should celebrate your identity, especially in places where you don’t see your identity represented. The art industry is small, and the Black industry is smaller, so it’s important to create communities with each other!”